That Bloody Chamber: Feminism, Lit Theory and Angela Carter

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Since I am recently out from the red velvet fiction of Ms. Angela Carter’s the Bloody Chamber, let’s talk feminist literary fiction and theory.  That bloody chamber is right.

While reading her work, I admired what I detected as a hidden mirth under a proud and defiant spirit; like a Shakespearean Puck character.  The writing is smart, beautiful, and sexy, to boot; regardless of gender.

When I love, then I dissect, literarily not literally.  To get to know this writer better, a closer examination of the writing was needed, beyond the super-girl, sometimes gothic, persona.

And let me tell you there are some downright rock-star moments in this book.  Rockstar, kick-ass, literary fiction. I never thought those adjectives would go together. I love it!  She is her own freakin’ genre.  (We should blog later about the definitions of literary fiction, as they are dubious; in need of an Other.)

I wondered about Ms. Carter and the era she grew up in.  What was she searching for in her stories?  What was she really telling me through her fiction?  This trail brought me back to that word I haven’t used in a long time: feminism.

... the only writer I’ve ever known to make a widowed mother sound like a rock star ...: It was a confrontational word back when I knew it and when she was living it; there’s no doubt in my mind that it was. But she willingly put herself in that fight by claiming the title. Did she?  Just by the stories she chose to publish in that Bloody Chamber: I think, yes.  But how did she do it?  Happily, defensively, aggressively, angrily? I am sure she needed a high level of certainty about who she was in order to write so sharply, almost like she couldn’t afford doubt.

While I was in school, whenever feminism came up throughout the history of English Literature, from antiquity, Middle Ages, etc, I felt I was being asked to define who I was as a woman, and if I couldn’t, then I had to confess ignorance of my sex and its role in shaping human history.

I was too inexperienced to honestly consider feminism on a personal level.  I was also too busy trying to prove academic opinions when I barely knew enough to have any.   The thesis statement: another bloody chamber.

I eventually learned that I don’t need to be defensive, or offensive, to be comfortable in my definition of myself as an intelligent woman because I make my mark everyday by how I choose to be. ie. Today, this is what a woman does.  Tomorrow, this is what a woman does. And some days are stupider than others.  I adhere to that highly ideal and poetic theory that each one of us essentially define all through being one.  But I appreciate that I enjoy this relaxed stance because those history-making fights for women’s rights, in the Western world, had already been waged for me.

Was Ms. Carter’s fierce brilliance a little defensive?  Her fairy tales leave a lot unsaid. Fairy tales generally do.  To go further into a fairy tale character might reveal an ordinariness behind that magic designed to dazzle us into following after her.  I personally love it when legends become huggable but, sometimes, it is not easy to be both tough and soft.

P.S. On a side but interesting note, after noticing a few references to the Bible — ‘a mark of Cain,’ ‘Eve’s sin’, etc. — in the Bloody Chamber, I wondered if in the process of finding her sense of identity as a feminist and writer, in her era of individualism and defiance for the status quo, Ms. Carter wanted to challenge the biggest male – and arguably literary — presence in her Western culture as an equal — and that would be God.  Now, that’s a pretty big statement but an interesting chew, not just for her, but her generation of writers. Whenever literary fiction has taken direct aim at religion there might be a case to be made for these writers wanting to face their own ‘God’ for an ultimate self-revelation.  Think of the way religion was used as a form of repression during her lifetime.  I might be onto something. Wonder what my former Lit profs would think of that thesis statement …

P.P.S.  Was surprised that I could not find any satisfying illustrations inspired by this book …

© lyw 

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